Reviews

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith: Review

Oh boy. First the background on this read. I first picked up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies several years ago, probably around the time it came out. I very quickly put it back down again after reading only the first paragraph. If you’ve read some of my previous reviews then you may be aware that I am a huge Jane Austen fan and that Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorite books. So when I picked up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and found that the entire first paragraph was just the first paragraph of Austen’s original novel only reworded to be about zombies I was immediately exasperated, and a little bit angry, and returned the book to the library. The only reason I even gave the book another try was because of the movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

A little bit about the movie. I went to see it with a couple of friends expecting to laugh at how bad it was, but I actually really liked it. The movie knew that it was ridiculous and worked that to its advantage so that you ended up with a really funny movie. It was interesting to watch because all the violence and zombies allowed a lot of the unstated tension and undercurrents of the novel to come out physically. I thought that was really interesting (and funny) and I wondered how much of that was just the movie and how much might be present in the book as well. I also figured that my literary taste has developed and widened significantly since the last time I tried to read the book, and now I might be able to appreciate it for what it is. Well, what I’ve learned after reading the book is that the movie was just the perfect balance of the violence and zombie ridiculousness from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and everything wonderful from the original book, whereas the actual book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is just… well, its just really bad. Fair warning, there are going to be a lot of spoilers in this post because I cannot fully express my feelings about this book without referencing a number of specific things. Lets get started.

Having done no research on the subject, if I had to guess about Seth Grahame-Smith’s method for writing this book I would say that he took the original Pride and Prejudice and read through it thinking “hey! I could put some zombies in this part!” and then, “Hmm, nope, this part doesn’t need zombies, let’s leave it as it is.” Literally the entire book is just Austen’s novel with certain passages rewritten to incorporate the zombie apocalypse. Now, I know what your thinking, or at least what I was thinking for the first few pages, which is that this could be really interesting if done well. But it wasn’t. Done well I mean. The problem is that Grahame-Smith didn’t seem to put a lot of thought into how his different zombie bits would fit together, rather focusing on how he could make it as gory and ridiculous as possible. There were a lot of inconsistency in the novel, even place names changed at times. And there were bigger things, like what a huge deal it was that Elizabeth Bennet’s training was supposed to be sub-par because she trained in China instead of in Japan like all of the classy people, and yet, for some reason, despite her pride in her Chinese masters and training, one of her favorite weapons is a katana. Which is, like, the quintessential Japanese weapon. What’s up with the Seth Grahame-Smith?

But it wasn’t even the little things and lack of consistency that made this novel a complete bust for me. The biggest thing was that Grahame-Smith completely corrupted Austen’s wonderful characters. In the movie I felt that they did a pretty good job of incorporating their zombie fighting and extensive training into Darcy and Elizabeth’s characters. In the books they’re pretty much just blood thirsty, brutal, violent, killers. I mean let me just sum it up this way. When Elizabeth Bennet killed a ninja (because, yes, their are ninjas in this book), punched her fist through its rib cage, ripped out its heart and then took a bite of it I was pretty much done. I mean I get that the novel was supposed to be ridiculous, but there are still limits, especially when you’re messing with such a well loved classic.

Now, to be fair, the movie did do some strange things with Wickham, the zombies, and the whole apocalypse angle that were really weird and that the book didn’t do at all, but I can still say with absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is one of those very rare instances of a movie being better than the book. Especially with Matt Smith playing Mr. Collins, he was perfect and whenever they do another real Pride and Prejudice remake I will be really disappointed if he isn’t cast as Mr. Collins again.

If it shocks you at this point that I only rate this book 1/5 then you really haven’t been paying attention, or you just skipped to the end. Anyway, my favorite part of reading this book was actually picking out all of the really bad stuff because I was excited to write about it in this review. There was probably once or twice where I got a little bit excited about the possibilities Grahame-Smith brought up with his zombies, but they never developed into anything worthwhile and I can’t now even remember what any of them are, so clearly they didn’t leave much of an impression. Read this book if you want to laugh at something completely ridiculous and then go read Pride and Prejudice again.

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Reviews

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir: Review

I got this book on the recommendation of a good friend who had read the first few chapter and suggested that I get it too so we could read it together as a kind of book club type deal. This resulted in a great bonding experience with my friend, and one of the most frustrating reading experiences of my life. You see my friend also happened to move to California with a new roommate, new job, everything. Which meant that she had very little time for reading. It typically doesn’t take me more than a few days to read a book because once I start I want to know how it ends, but it took me probably a month to read all the way through An Ember in the Ashes because I kept having to wait for my friend to catch up, but the fact that I was interested enough to keep reading the book over such an extended period is a strong indication that it’s a good book.

After some discussion my friend and I decided, based on some of the cultural elements as well as the lore and such that are relevant in the novel, that this book is set in a fictionalized and fantasized middle east. In that vein, there is a lot of interesting world building and history that goes into the story, particularly the magical elements and creatures. Basically the fictional land that the story takes place in was conquered a long time ago by the Martials, a type of warrior people who used their superior weaponry to defeat the Scholar people who were previously the ruling power. The Scholars ruled with knowledge, and, if I remember right, they had gotten their knowledge by tricking the Jinn (who are magical creatures) into sharing it with them and then using it against them so that they could rule the land. Now the Martials ruthlessly rule over the Scholars who are so down trodden that their is only a very small underground resistance. Enter our two heroes: Laia, the beautiful but haunted girl whose whole family has boon destroyed by the Martials, and Elias the Martial born boy who was raised by the wandering tribes until the Martials’ holy men chose him to attend the brutal Black Cliff military academy. Laia is a scared and broken girl on a desperate mission given to her by the resistance in hopes that they will help her rescue her brother, her only remaining family, from a Martial prison, and Elias is a vicious warrior with a soft heart who only wants to be free from is bloody destiny. Naturally the two meet, have instant chemistry, and both complicate each others lives and help each other, etc.

Okay, so right of the bat I was skeptical of this book because it’s one of those that switches back and forth between the perspectives of the main characters. Normally I can’t stand that because I always greatly prefer one of the characters and the other chapters end up just annoying me. Not so with Tahir’s book. Well it’s true that I did prefer Laia’s chapters and look forward to them most, I actually liked Elias and his chapters enough that I wasn’t just rushing to get through them. I think part of the reason why I liked the way Tahir did it was because the chapters weren’t entirely separate. A lot of times with books like this I find that the different perspectives are taking place half a world away from each other, but in this book Laia and Elias each feature centrally in each others chapters and the chapters sometimes even cover the same time period (fortunately not too often because that would have been really tiresome).

I really liked how this book kept me guessing. I mean, yes, there was some stuff that was fairly predictable, but for the most part I was never really sure what was going to happen next, and I must say that I particularly appreciated the ending of the book and how it set up the sequel. I really like both Laia and Elias, both of them grow a lot during the book, they have their flaws, but, ultimately, they now what they want and they fight for it which was really nice.

There are a lot of good things about An Ember in the Ashes, but, as always, there were flaws as well. Laia and Elais have both had really tough lives, and they aren’t getting any easier. Tahir seems to be one of those authors who isn’t happy if her characters aren’t suffering. Like a lot. I mean a lot. Like seriously. It was really excessive. Honestly it got to the point where I almost didn’t care about whatever they were going through because it got to be so much that it was just ridiculous. I felt like Tahir was trying to force me to sympathize with her characters by making them go through unimaginable physical, emotional, and psychological torment.

The other thing that I think bothered me most was that there seemed to me to be some inconsistency between what an amazing warrior Elias was, with all the rigorous physical and mental training he was supposed to have gone through, and what I saw actually taking place in the story. I mean yeah, he kicked a lot of butt, but there were times that I was like “okay, you just said that Elias is incredible at such and such like three chapter ago, but if he’s so amazing why did such and such just happen to him, or why wasn’t he able to do such and such?” You know what I mean? The last thing that I want to mention that I really didn’t like about this novel was the whole love triangle thing that Tahir has got going on. Two of them actually. Or maybe that would be classified as a love square? I’m not really sure. Anyway, there are four people all in love with each other, or not sure whether they love each other, or not sure who they should love, etc. Maybe this is a personal thing, but I just can’t stand love triangles. They annoy me right from the get go. Most of the time its completely obvious who the main character will end up with anyway so I’m not even sure what the point is. But I digress.

My final thought is that this is a solid book with plenty of adventure, romance, and lots of interesting magical and historical elements that I’m eager to see develop in the sequel. Definitely worth a read if you like fantasy novels. 4/5 stars.

Reviews

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay: Review

I am a sucker for fairy tale retellings, remakes, knockoffs, etc. honestly they don’t even have to sound that good to appeal to me. Of course, reading them indiscriminately as I do I’ve inevitably run into some real disappointments before, but this wasn’t one of them.

As you might guess by the title Princess of Thorns is about Sleeping Beauty, or rather, Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, Aurora. As with many other books like this one Stacey Jay puts a dark twist on the tale, which always makes for some interesting reading, but I think the thing that really made this novel enjoyable for me was the world building that Jay put behind her Sleeping Beauty tale.

*some spoilers follow* In Jay’s version of events Sleeping Beauty was blessed by the faeries to be beautiful etc. and then put into her enchanted sleep. She was, of course, rescued by a handsome prince, who’s stepmother happened to be a troll. Unfortunately, Prince Charming wasn’t so charming and apparently he was stepping out on Sleeping Beauty despite the fact that they had two children together, their daughter Aurora and their son Jor. Of course, Sleeping Beauty doesn’t pick up on this until pretty late in the game because her handsome prince is keeping her and the children hidden away to protect them from his previously mentioned troll stepmother, but Sleeping Beauty becomes suspicious and takes her children to the capital to find out just what her husband is up to, only to show up just in time for the troll queen and her priest brother to overthrow the thrown and enslave the human population, all in an effort to fulfill a prophecy that a briar born child would help usher in the age of troll heaven, or something like that. Now guess who the briar born children are? That’s right. Aurora and her brother are the only two briar born children left.

When the trolls take over they plan to kill Sleeping Beauty and keep her children prisoners until the time comes for the prophecy to be fulfilled. But Sleeping Beauty has other plans. From her own experience she knows that fairy blessings nearely always come with a hidden curse, that’s why she wouldn’t allow the faeries to bless her children when they were born. But, locked in the troll queens dungeon she makes a hard choice. She gives up her fairy blessings, instead using their magic to bless her daughter with warriors gifts so that someday she can take back the kingdom. With the help of a wishy-washy palace guard Aurora and Jor are smuggled out of the palace to be raised by the faeries until they can take their kingdom back.

This is where the bulk of the story takes place. We jump back in when Aurora is seventeen, and she’s on a mission. Her little brother has been captured by the troll queen and she has to get him back because the time of the prophecy is almost upon them. But she can’t do it alone. Even fairy blessed as she is she’ll need the help of the handsome prince Nicklaas. Nicklaas is wrapped up in his own quest, a quest to find a princess to help him break a family curse. Naturally he wants Aurora to marry him, only a case of mistaken identity has him thinking that she’s actually her brother Jor. Naturally a series of hilarious, though somewhat predictable, adventures ensue as Nicklaas tries to get “Jor” to lead him to Aurora while Aurora uses Nicklaas to try and save her bother. Each is haunted by a curse that they won’t reveal to the other, but each needs the other to save themselves. Of course, because no one can ever just be honest with each other in these teen romances.

Alright, so the best part of this book is definitely the work Jay put into developing her fairy tale backgrounds, and Sleeping Beauty isn’t the only story that we see. Nicklaas and his curse come from another fairy tale (but I’m not gonna tell you which), and we also see stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel if somewhat briefly. I really enjoyed all of the fairy tale elements in the story, and the chemistry between Aurora and Nicklaas was great, but of course this book did have it’s issues.

I was a little bit frustrated with the end of the novel, I won’t say too much about how it ended, but it seemed kind of like a cop out to me. Plus there was the whole issue of it being a bit predictable, not to mention the way things often seemed to work out a bit too perfectly for our hero and heroine. Without going into too much detail one of the things that bothered me most was near the end when Aurora does something stupid and then a whole bunch of self loathing and suffering ensues. It just bothered me because I don’t like it when authors try to force me to sympathize with their characters by making them suffer in unreasonable and unnecessary ways. But that’s a personal thing.

Anyway, this book was a really quick read. I picked it up on a Saturday and finished it within about six or eight hours I think. It’s not a perfect novel, but it was fun to read, kept me engaged, and, in the end, I was pretty satisfied with it. If you’re looking for something challenging this probably isn’t the book for you, but it’s definitely worth it if you’re just looking for a fun read, or if you’re  sucker for fairy tales like me. 4/5 stars for this one.